Private fire companies: Friend or foe?

Understanding the role of private fire companies during wildland fires – and why public agency firefighters voice concerns

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Most of us know that the U.S. fire service has its roots with Benjamin Franklin, who is widely regarded as the first fire chief, having founded the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia in 1736.

Tradition also tells us that his genius not only organized the first fire department, but also that he was instrumental in the creation of the Philadelphia Contributionship Insurance Company, which insured properties that would install lightning rods as a preventative measure against lightning strikes. It was also the first insurance company to use metal fire marks in a familiar “four hands clasped together”-style to signify the homes it insured.

Along with insurance coverage that shared the risk against fires, properties were given these fire marks to recognize that the insurance companies would not only cover the loss but also pay the volunteers for their firefighting efforts. While fire marks today have all but disappeared, the concept of private fire departments appears to once again be gaining momentum in wildfire-prone states.

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